The Equality Lab has been keeping busy this semester with various remote activities. In September, Ravynn K. Stringfield hosted a workshop on cultivating a professional identity on Twitter. Just this past Friday, October 23, we hosted “Finding Home: Placemaking in the Spatial Humanities,” the first of a series of online mini-conferences we’ll be hosting throughout the year. Today I’d like to take a closer look at this most recent event.
We started talking about the idea of doing an online symposium addressing the theme of home in late spring, when sheltering at home policies were still actively in place. During an online happy hour with other Equality Lab affiliates, we all discussed what it meant to be at home during this time, and what the idea of home itself connotes to different people, whether it’s a place of shelter, repose, or danger. From there, we started thinking about what a series of online conferences around the home might look like in terms of potential themes, speakers, connections to the digital humanities, and other logistics. Eventually, we decided to settle on three events, one happening in the fall, and two in the spring.
For this first conference, we decided to focus on the idea of home as explored through the spatial humanities. We chose the spatial humanities because we thought this would offer an opportunity to showcase a wide variety of digital projects, and potentially attract people who might be interested in DH but aren’t really familiar with all it can do. As the name implies, basically the spatial humanities apply to anyone whose research explores the concept of space, whether they’re working in archaeology, art history, architectural history, or something else. From virtual recreations of physical spaces to imaginary interiors to alternative approaches to thinking about extant spaces, the spatial humanities allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of what it means to engage the areas around us.
Since we only had about a month to put this together, our supervisor, Elizabeth Losh, did most of the heavy lifting in terms of contacting potential speakers. Once she had gotten confirmations, my fellow graduate cohort Laura and I did the follow-up work of gathering bios, abstracts, and headshots for the Equality Lab’s event page, as well as circulating the event through various listservs and other forms of publicity.
The final conference was divided into three hour-long sessions; we started at 3 pm Eastern Time and wrapped up at 6. To prevent Zoom fatigue, we kept each presentation to about 15 minutes, with time at the end of each session for discussion. Rather than group the speakers by digital platform, we opted for thematic clusters such as status and display or queer spaces, as we thought this would better promote conversation across the three sessions. Since we plan on having the other two conferences speak to themes of access, indigenous spaces, and other intersectional themes, we thought this grouping fit in with the overall interests of both the conference series and the Equality Lab itself.
Here’s the summary of the conference:
The home evokes a range of emotional responses, from security and comfort to confinement and danger. Yet how does space contribute to a sense of home? How do buildings, textiles, and other objects in the built environment create a domestic sense of place? What emotional and intellectual responses emerge when we critically examine the home as space and concept? This symposium will explore the concept of “home” through the multidisciplinary lens of spatial and digital humanities. Bringing together perspectives from art history, archeology, architecture, gender studies, and fashion studies, this event will explore how the spatial humanities complicate and enrich our understanding of home through digital and analog projects.
And here’s the schedule list of sessions, speakers, and their respective projects:
Session 1: Status and Display
Jessica Sewell (University of Virginia): Gender politics and fantasies as rendered through the midcentury bachelor pad
Session 2: Secrecy, Violence, and Queer Spaces
Alexis Bard Johnson (ONE Archives at USC Libraries): Reconsidering home in the COVID-19 era through a real-time Scalar exhibition called Safer at Home, which highlights works from the largest LGBTQ archive in the country
Session 3: Material and Imagined Spaces
Jeff Klee (Classical American Homes Preservation Trust): Exploring the potential and limitations of virtual recreations of historical spaces in Colonial Williamsburg
Steven E. Jones (University of South Florida): Recreating the physical spaces of Roberto Busa’s Centro per L’Automazione dell’Analisi Letteraria, which used IBM punch-card machines to perform quantitative readings on the works of Thomas Aquainas
Chris Swan (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation): Sharing the intersections between analog and digital research through an exploration of his work as a furniture conservator.
We covered a lot of material in only three hours, and the projects varied considerably in subject matter, methods, and digital approaches. Although the conference was eclectic in its topics, several unifying themes did reappear throughout the presentations, such as the tension between real spaces and fantasy, the ways that virtual spaces can bring new insights to physical ones, and the ongoing importance of analog materials to digital approaches. Indeed, a recurrent idea through the symposium was the ongoing challenge of rendering dirt and other impracticalities of physical existence in the virtual world, with 3D models and other media often presenting a sanitized, streamlined version of reality that overlooks the messiness of sensory experience, whether it manifests through different smells, dirt, and other detritus.
Overall I think it was a successful event. We had a wonderful group of speakers, and it was inspiring to learn about all their projects. On the technological side, everyone’s presentations worked, and we had a good turnout of attendees. Looking back, I think the only thing we agreed we would do differently in the future is to have the presentations be even shorter to allow more time for discussion, as well as to schedule more breaks. Considering that this was our first virtual event though, I think it went well, and everyone who participated seemed to have a good time.
We’re planning on two more events like this next semester, so you’ll be hearing more about the Equality Lab on this blog in the future. We’ll also be hosting more workshops, including one from Laura about using Instagram for academic work on November 5, so stay tuned!